The Enemy Paradox

Thoughts on Friends and Enemies in International Relations & Politics

Carl Schmitt, the Nazi whose thought is still inexplicably in vogue at various Anglo-American political science departments, believed that the fundamental political distinction is the division between “friend” and “enemy.” That this division underlies much of politics, even in societies with the most genteel of political systems, is undeniable. On the Left, we view politics as a power struggle, a conflict between workers and capitalists, a battle between advocates of genuine democracy and adherents of economic and political autocracy. But members of the far right in many Western countries seem to be reviving the notion in a more violent, disturbing way. Trump’s rhetoric about the press, the Left, and other bugbears of his being “enemies of the people” culminated quite recently in the January 6 insurrection. Recent concerns about polarization and the calcification of domestic divisions between friend and foe have motivated a slew of op-eds and books about tribalism in the United States and Western Europe. In societies plagued by civil war or gang violence, the friend-enemy distinction is much more apparent. But it’s in the space between societies where the friend-enemy dichotomy becomes most salient: in fact, it is central to most international relations analyses.

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Scott Remer has published in venues such as In These Times, Africa Is a Country, Common Dreams, OpenDemocracy, Philosophy Now, Philosophical Salon, and International Affairs.

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